It’s only the first week of school and already you’ve got a professor who seems to dislike you. How could that be? You haven’t done anything wrong—haven’t walked in late, haven’t fallen asleep in class, didn’t even answer your cell phone when you knew it was your mother calling.
So why should this teacher appear to single you out for abuse? Are you being paranoid? Maybe—or maybe not. The professor did contradict you, spitefully, it seemed, when you raised your hand to answer a question. Here you were, kind enough to raise your hand and answer the teacher’s question, and he/she embarrassed you in class. Is that fair?
No, it’s not fair. No teacher should embarrass a student in class, under any circumstances. Yet it happens all the time. And it may happen again, if you’ve got a professor with a certain personality type who asserts authority by putting students down.
Fortunately, there aren’t too many of those around. Most of the professors you’ll encounter in your academic career want to help students; in fact, that’s why they became teachers. But there are a few who get off track and develop a bad relationship with students, for any number of reasons. For example:
The teacher is new and inexperienced, and maybe even frightened about maintaining control of the classroom. This teacher needs your help.
The teacher has been there forever, and he/she is exhausted, waiting to retire. This teacher needs your compassion.
The teacher has an ego problem, and often humiliates students in class. This teacher needs to be reported.
The difficulty is you can’t always tell which category your “mean teacher” falls into. But take a moment to find out-with a little work you might be able to change things to your advantage.
1: The new teacher
If your teacher is new it may be obvious. New teachers often have a worried expression on their faces as they stand in front of the class preparing to teach. You can ask around, or check previous class schedules to find out if this is the teacher’s first semester. If it is, the teacher may not be mean at all—just overwhelmed (like you are).
What you can do:
Continue answering questions in class, especially during those moments of dead silence that occur when a teacher asks a question nobody can answer. Try to listen to hear what the teacher is driving at—sometimes a glance at your notes will tell you.
Go visit the teacher in his/her office at a convenient time for the teacher (early morning is usually best). Tell the teacher you’re looking forward to the class, and yes, compliment the teacher. Say the first day was interesting, or the assignment looks challenging—sure, both you and the teacher will know there’s a little flattery involved, but the teacher won’t care. New teachers need encouragement almost as much as you do. And as for the teacher’s abrupt manner, emphasis on rules, and lack of smiling—it’s only nerves, and you can deal with that!
2: The tired teacher
The teacher who has been there forever and is now exhausted is almost as easy to spot as the new teacher. He/she has a sort of flatness in lecture style, and while that teacher may not appear nervous, there’s a lot of anxiety going on underneath that impervious behavior. This “mean teacher” may not purposefully contradict your answer in class; instead, he/she may glide right over it, or make a joke that embarrasses you almost as much as if the teacher did contradict you. This teacher has half his/her mind elsewhere—maybe on sore feet, or a sick spouse, or pressures that older people get that you don’t know about.
What you can do:
Offer to carry something for this teacher—books, book bags, equipment, anything! Be helpful—this teacher needs your consideration. Again, go chat with the teacher in his/her office; tell the teacher that you are enjoying the class even if you’re not, particularly. Ask about the professor’s former career—veteran teachers love to talk about all the fabulous things they did “when they were your age”. Yes, it might be boring, but it will work, believe me! And if that teacher has published anything or done something interesting, make sure you know about it.
(Oh, by the way—a compliment or two about the teacher’s appearance will work wonders!)
3: The teacher with a problem
If you’ve got a teacher with an ego problem, or one who is unnecessarily nasty, you may have to take more extreme measures. This may not show up right away—some crazy teachers will be sweet as sugar the first day. But then they’ll hit you with a quiz on nothing you’ve ever studied, or flunk you on a paper for no particular reason. If you find yourself with a teacher who is humiliating you (and others) in the classroom, and you think that teacher is enjoying your discomfort, you’ve got a teacher with a problem.
What you can do:
First go see your teacher and find out if there’s something you’re doing that is causing the difficulty. If the teacher is completely unsympathetic, uninterested or unpleasant, your next step is to talk to the Department Head. If this is an unusual instance, the Department Head will know—and will probably put a stop to it.
If the Department Head tells you to go talk to the Dean, it means this is an ongoing problem. You owe it to yourself and the rest of the students to report the situation—and you should do so.
Dear students, there is no reason to have a “mean teacher” in your life. With a little help, compassion, or by reporting the situation to the right person, you can make a bad situation better.
(PS: Say a prayer for those mean teachers—they need it!)